The natural gas boom has led to an “unprecedented industrialization” of many Americans’ backyards, an analysis from the Wall Street Journal has found.
The WSJ looked at census and natural gas well data from more than 700 counties in 11 major natural-gas producing states, and found that at least 15.3 million Americans have a natural gas well within one mile of their home that has been drilled since 2000. That’s more than the population of Michigan or New York.
The boom has left some towns inundated with natural gas operations. In suburban Johnson County, Texas, 99.5 percent of the area’s 150,000 residents now live within a mile of the county’s 3,900 wells — in 2000, there were fewer than 20 oil and gas wells.
And the construction of natural gas wells isn’t letting up anytime soon. Production of the Marcellus Shale region is growing faster than expected, reaching 12 billion cubic feet a day — enough that, if it were a country, the Marcellus Shale would be the eighth-largest producer of natural gas in the world. America will have “a million new oil and gas wells drilled over the next few decades,” a Duke professor told the WSJ. And it’s likely many of those wells could end up in Americans’ backyards — a recent Reuters analysis uncovered the unsettling trend of home developers keeping the rights to oil and gas reserves under the houses they sell, in many cases without notifying the homes’ buyers outright. That way, the home developer can lease the land of an entire neighborhood to a natural gas company — with or without the residents’ consent.
This boom of backyard wells, however, has driven many Americans to action. More and more cities are voting to ban fracking; Pittsburgh was the first municipality in 2010 to ban the practice, and since then Highland Park, N.J., and multiple cities in Pennsylvania have banned fracking. In 2011, Dryden, N.Y. banned fracking after a fierce and successful lobbying effort from town citizens. Now, that ban is being taken to New York’s highest court, and the court’s decision could set precedent for the legality of other local fracking bans.
It’s not surprising that many towns and cities are concerned about the dangers of fracking. Fracking has been tied to a range of health effects in people and livestock, and it also greatly increases truck traffic around wellsites, leading to an increase of noise and fumes. It’s largely up to states to enact their own regulations on fracking, and several are — California is requiring oil and gas companies to list the chemicals they use in fracking online and monitor the air and water quality around well sites, and New York state enacted a moratorium on fracking six years ago, in order to give the state time to determine the potential environmental and health impacts of the practice.
But right now, there are few federal regulations on the practice, something House Democrats want to change. They’re calling on the Obama administration to speed up Environmental Protection Agency guidance on fracking — guidance which they say is long overdue.